Coming Back to the Land 240 Years of Human Activity at Mead Base


Download 249.24 Kb.
Date conversion07.07.2017
Size249.24 Kb.
  1   2   3   4   5
Coming Back to the Land

240 Years of Human Activity at Mead Base

by Tom Okie

Summer 2001

The old headquarters building at Mead Base, on first appraisal, is nothing remarkable. Like any number of New England farmhouses, it has been scarred by weather and time: the paint is peeling in places, the chimney unstable, and the rear siding rotting. To most observers — passers-by on their way up Mount Israel on the Wentworth Trail, campers in the Adirondack cabins to the west of the house, or confused tourists searching for Sandwich Notch — the house signifies nothing, unless they notice the Daniel Webster Council–Boy Scouts of America sign that still hangs over the front drive: “Building Better Youth.”

The house’s unimpressive appearance, however, conceals a rich, varied past. Hidden underneath this static facade is history — the organic unrolling of the past right into the present. Like so much of what surrounds us, this homestead has a story to tell, a story that intersects and illustrates broader historical narratives — of New Hampshire, New England, the nation, the world — in important ways.

The old homestead cleared by Jacob and Eliphalet Smith sits nestled in the lower slopes of Mount Israel. The intervale, a lovely swath of grasses and clover that is still hayed twice every summer, stretches south from the house toward a quartz-studded ridge known as Diamond Ledge. On the western side of the intervale runs what is now Diamond Ledge Road, formerly (and more accurately) known as Smith Intervale Road. It joins Sandwich Notch Road at the end of the intervale. To the west is remarkably flat terrain, undoubtedly once the Smiths’ best farmland, dotted now with Boy Scout-era cabins under an open grove of white pines. Fieldstones that once provided the foundation for Lewis Q. Smith’s barn or the boundaries for his fields, along with several small gullies that run with water in wet weather, break up the landscape. Further west, the Bearcamp River descends from Beede’s Falls across the intervale and southeast into town. To the east, a stone wall, now hidden by the forest, extends from Wilbur Cook’s big oak in the middle of the intervale to nearly halfway up Mount Israel. To the north, the Wentworth Trail ascends Israel, passing stone walls and barbed wire that once marked off a number of pastures far up the mountain.

Old houses are not unusual in New England, but many have only seen a couple of different uses in their lifetimes. Too, many have been restored to period so that they represent only one slice of history. What makes Mead Base especially interesting is that it has been affected by so much of American land use history and still bears the marks of that history. Not only is it a rare representative of the unique agrarian society of early nineteenth-century New England, a hill farm that survived the virtual disappearance of its neighborhood, but it also illustrates a great deal of subsequent history. By the 1930s, the house was a tourist attraction and was later purchased as a summer dwelling. Engineer and conservationist Jack Mead bought it as part of his effort to save the surrounding forest from timber harvesting, and his widow later donated it to the White Mountain National Forest.

The Boy Scouts used the place for forty-six years to reintroduce the young men of America to the wilderness and the virtues it instills. And today, the house touches on the conservation-recreation conflict that currently plagues public-lands management. The ways we live in the world — especially the ways we use the land — have changed dramatically in the last two centuries, and these changes are vivid in the history of Mead Base.

It is a place that brings people back. Eliphalet Smith’s son Josiah returned often to the homestead established by his father, even as a very old man, when he was seen “shuffling along slowly with the aid of his two canes.”1 Eliphalet’s grandson Burleigh, from his missionary post in India, made frequent, affectionate references to “the old mountain home” in his letters to the family, and later came returned on furlough to help his aging father farm during the Civil War. Burleigh’s brother, Lewis Q. Smith, was restless as a young man, but eventually settled down to farming here for nearly half a century. His son, Demerit, also returned after farming elsewhere to give the land its last thirteen years of husbandry. The mountainside that once harbored livestock summer after summer now supports a forest and the Wentworth Trail that brings back summer campers and hikers year after year. Former Scout campers with fond recollections of their days of high adventure at the Wilderness Base visit to show their families around. Summer residents appreciative of the house’s historical facade have kept the place under watchful eyes.

Since this purports to be a history of land and buildings, it may seem out of place to spend so much time on the people. But natural history is, or should be, human history, and in a place as inhabited as this one has been, the two are inseparable. The people who have traversed these few acres have all somehow etched their culture into the land, and the land, for its part, has returned the favor. As one state historian notes, early New Hampshire pioneers “did not impose their will on the land so much as the land imposed its character on them.”2

Knowing how this relationship has developed is important because of what it teaches us about ourselves. At the least, perhaps, it should remind us that we humans are uniquely in the world. We are, as environmental historian Donald Worster puts it, “truly part of the planet,” but part of it in a way shared by no other creature.3 Here at the foot of Mount Israel, people have been both farmers trying to eke out a living and modern Americans trying to get back in touch with their pioneer forebears — the hard labor, the feel of an untouched forest, the quiet solitude.

The story stretches infinitely back, and perhaps with intensive environmental–archeological projects we could learn a great deal about the distant past, but we begin with the available documentation, in the 1760s, just before the little town of Sandwich was chartered.

1760-1935: THE SMITHS

Jacob and Dorothy Smith
Nearly 250 years ago “Colonel” Jacob Smith (1739-1816) of Exeter, New Hampshire, began making regular trips to the Sandwich area with some of his prominent Exeter companions — perhaps his comrades-in-arms — to hunt and trap.4 The party camped under a couple of mountains at the southerly edge of the Sandwich Range near “the little river” they named Bearcamp on account of a mischievous bear that, in their absence, broke into their camp and consumed their provisions.5

In a few short years the land they explored was chartered to a group of Exeterites as the town of Sandwich, and Jacob emigrated with his wife, Dorothy6 Ladd (1741-1824), and their son Eliphalet to settle in the Bearcamp Valley.7 Their earliest neighbors were Israel Gilman, who gave his name to one of the mountains, and Simeon Smith, both members of the famous hunting party.

Jacob was apparently a regular at the local tax sales,8 and so bought an enormous amount of land in the area – about a thousand acres, according to one report.9 And like almost everyone settling in northern New Hampshire in the eighteenth century, the land he found was almost certainly thick with trees. According to tradition, he was the first to significantly change the land on which Mead Base stands — he cleared the forest for farmland, an arduous task that has been chronicled elsewhere.10 He built a little red house out in the middle of the intervale which served as the center of a 200-acre farm.

Gallant Captain

As Jacob was coming of age in Exeter, local Native American tribes such as the Canadian Saint Francis Indians were attacking often enough to justify garrisons and small fortresses in even the smallest towns, and there were frequent excursions to do battle with the belligerents.11 Three Jacob Smiths (father, son, grandson) were listed among the Exeter recruits for various offensive and defensive maneuvers to counteract the raids, which the colonists suspected were incited by the French or the British, whoever happened to be the greater enemy at the moment.12 Even if our Jacob did not join these expeditions, it is probable that his interest in the military had its roots here. We may also speculate that his patriotism was in part a result of his Exeter upbringing. From its earliest days as a refuge for religious dissenters, the town seemed to foster independent thinking. By the late 1700s, Exeter was a center of revolutionary ferment.13

Thus it is not surprising that along with most Sandwich residents (except for a few loyalists and some “of Quaker proclivities”), Jacob Smith signed the Association Test of April 1776, a document recommended by the Continental Congress and circulated by state assemblies to shore up patriotic sentiment. According to Georgia Drew Merrill’s 1889 History of Carroll County, it was effectively “a declaration of independence by the New Hampshire people.”14 Signers promised:

to the utmost of our power, at the risque of our lives and fortunes, with ARMS, oppose the hostile proceedings of the British fleets and armies against the United American Colonies.15
Jacob backed up his words with his gun. He served with the Continental Army in 1777 under General Gates and Captain Nathan Ambrose in the crucial battle at Saratoga, in which a British force of some 7000 was captured by colonial militias. He was discharged after General Burgoyne surrendered in November 1777.16

Apparently his military career continued extensively after his stint with Captain Ambrose. In April 1781, according to Sandwich Historical Society records, Jacob Smith, this time as a Captain, led a company of sixty-five men which was to be ready at to march to West Point at General Washington’s command.17 Then from August to November of that year, for twelve pounds a month, Jacob participated in an expedition to punish an unruly Indian tribe as the “Gallant Captain of the Rangers.”18 By 1787, he was in the state militia’s nineteenth regiment as a first major; by 1795, at the respectable age of fifty-six, he was a Lieutenant Colonel.19 Presumably the title by which he was known, “Colonel,” derived from his service in the state militia.

Citizen Farmer

Jacob Smith was also an important figure in the Sandwich community. In the 1770s and 80s he was several times a selectman and once a constable. And his geographical position was important, too. According to one report, the road from his homestead was laid out to Moultonborough in 1772.20 Later, in the early 1800s, his land would become a kind of threshold for the Sandwich Notch Road — in its day a much-traveled trade route — and the locally powerful community that grew up around it.

As he grew older, Jacob distributed some of his land to his sons. In 1795 he sold to Samuel Smith a piece of land across the Notch Road near Dinsmore Pond, which under the husbandry of Samuel’s son Colonel Lewis Smith (not to be confused with his cousin Lewis Q. Smith) became one of the most prosperous farms in Sandwich Notch.21 And in March of 1815 he left about fifty acres at the base of Mount Israel to Eliphalet “in consideration of the love regard and affection” he held for him.22 But Colonel Smith was unable to hold onto his own farm. In 1811 he was forced to mortgage it to a Dover, New Hampshire gentleman and finally sold it in 1812 to Paul Wentworth.23

According to reports, Jacob lived with Eliphalet in a house they built in 1812 until his death in 1816.24 After a lifetime of adventures, Jacob Smith had come at last to the homestead at the foot of Mount Israel to die. It was here, with his descendants, that his legacy would live on.

Eliphalet and Mercy Smith
We know little about where Eliphalet Smith (1762-1848) was before taking over his father’s land. He is listed as a cordwainer (shoemaker) in 1789, when he purchased ninety-nine acres high in Sandwich Notch at a tax sale.25 It is unknown if he ever cultivated this tract (he may have later sold it for a profit, since he paid just three shillings, five pence for it), but at some point he did change his occupation to husbandry, ultimately made his home at the base of Mount Israel, and probably built the original house. It is likely, moreover, that he did all this before his father granted him the land — tradition holds that he and his father built the original house in 1812, and the 1815 deed from Jacob includes “the buildings thereon.”

In any event, we may consider Eliphalet to be the real father of the homestead now known as Mead Base. He was the first in written memory to call the place home, even though Jacob may have actually cleared the land. Eliphalet laid the foundation for the next three generations of Smiths, for adventure-seeking Scouts, and for innumerable outdoor enthusiasts.

The plot he carved out of the forest included a narrow strip of arable land extending to the west of the house, and probably some pastureland and perhaps garden plots up on the mountain. It was bordered on the east by his father’s old farm, then in the possession of the Wentworths and later belonging to the Beedes.26 Eliphalet seems to have been a precise fellow. According to some documentation he recorded the time of his marriage and the births of his children down to the minute.27 And he took it upon himself to produce a document, titled simply “Experienced, Medicine, and Cuers for many certain Diseases,” relating his remedies for ailments such as film on the eye (“Dry human Dung in the sun that is yalow and of a Good consistence and having Reduced it to a Very fine Powder Blow it throw a quill two or three times a day into the Eye..”), swelling, and “the courses” — a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Like his father, Eliphalet fought in the Revolutionary War, enlisting three times from 1779-81, including once with Jacob as captain.28 An unknown source relates that “he escaped British capture because in receiving the kicks and buffets of his enemies he assumed the position and repose of the dead, and so counterfeited death as to escape the negligence of his enemies.”29

In March 1784, he married Mercy Burley, who bore him seven children. Josiah, who later changed his name to George Washington Smith, made frequent visits to his birthplace until the end of his life. John (1793-1869) succeeded Eliphalet on the farm.30 According to reports, Eliphalet’s home burned sometime in the 1830s as he, “saving only his musket and his beloved fiddle,” sat on a stump and calmly watched.31 He is said to have rebuilt the ell before he died in 1848, supposedly leaving the construction of the main house to his grandson, Lewis Q. Smith.32

John and Eliza Smith
It was not long after his father and grandfather built the house under the mountain that John Smith (1793-1869) took their legacy of soldiering on himself and carried his grandfather’s gun into battle against the British in the War of 1812.33 Shortly after he returned (and less than three weeks after Eliphalet acquired it from Jacob) he bought the homestead from his father for $500.34 Presumably, although he sold it to his brother Samuel Smith in 1820, John cultivated the property until Lewis bought it in 1867.35

Disappearing Neighbors

By 1820 John had married Elizabeth (Eliza) Webster, who as the daughter of Dr. Jacob Webster was reputed to be medically astute. According to reports, she made use of the remedies of Dr. Harris, a locally famous doctor from Sandwich Notch.36

It was probably no coincidence that the Smiths had this connection with the Notch. More than their parents or their children, John and Eliza would have seen the rise and fall of this famous neighborhood. About the time he was leaving for the War, the Notch was just gaining momentum. It reached its peak by 1830 as a thriving and very nearly self-sufficient community of forty families along an important Canada-to-seacoast trade route. By the time John died in 1869, the Notch was comparatively empty, down to about a half-dozen families, its residents driven elsewhere by the Civil War’s demand for men, the railroad’s ability to transport goods, and the soil’s stubborn stinginess.37

Remarkably, the Smith homestead survived the decline of Sandwich Notch and hill farming across New Hampshire. The Notch was probably a typical early nineteenth-century hill farm community (as defined in a study by Richard C. Waldbauer of Brown University) in that its social and economic life was oriented around the “cluster” of farms along the Notch Road. Notch families, for example, were famous for their solidarity, so much so that they dominated local elections for years by voting as a bloc. Individual farms for the most part were not large or prosperous enough to be “self-sufficient” entities; rather, it was the cluster that was self-sufficient. Residents depended on each other, perhaps even to the extent of making decisions collectively. Thus, as the Notch population dwindled, the ones left behind were generally not equipped to deal with the vagaries of hill farming alone. The Smith homestead, however, seemed to have the internal resources — and perhaps the necessary proximity to Sandwich Center — to sustain itself. And like other hill farmers of the 1800s, the Smiths evidently “looked inward for adaptations,” increasingly relying on immediate family members instead of their Notch neighbors.38

Making a Home and a Living

On these spare sixty acres, John and Eliza raised six or possibly seven children, making a home of which their eldest son Benjamin Burleigh wrote fondly and frequently in his letters from India. “It must be hard,” he wrote in 1856, for the children “to leave the old house under the mountain. I know right well how to sympathize with them on this point.”39

Whether or not it was hard for the children to leave, they did return. There were periodic social visits, calls on sick people (Eliza, for example, suffered from fevers and headaches, as Burleigh exclaimed: “How many times the poor woman has had the fever, and how much suffering she has been called to endure!”40), and help for the farming operation. Home on furlough in 1862, Burleigh traveled around New England giving lectures on behalf of the “Christian Society,” but he and his young son Eddie helped on the farm as they could.41 John’s son Jacob was frequently on the farm helping his father hay, plow, and plant, as was Frank Wiggin, John’s son-in-law and one of Lewis’ best friends. Lewis’s wife Mary Elizabeth evidently moved in with her sons while her husband was away and, as it happened, never left. Lewis, for his part, apparently left home for a number of years — as a shoemaker perhaps out West in the 1850s, and as a private in New Hampshire’s 14 Regiment of Volunteers from 1862 to 1865 — but ultimately succeeded his father in 1867. In these small but significant ways, the land shaped the family’s social interaction.

John tilled the soil at the old homestead well into his seventies, wringing from the land peas, wheat, beans, potatoes, maple syrup, oats, corn, hay, and garden vegetables. Although the Historical Society’s Sandwich, New Hampshire, 1763-1990 and at least one local farmer agree that most of the farms in the area were oriented toward livestock since the soil was too thin and rocky for many crops, family letters suggest that the Smith farm produced mostly food Mary Elizabeth Smith writes much to her husband Lewis of plowing and sowing, but little of livestock. They seem to have had a few sheep, a pig, an old mare who in 1863 bore a fine colt – according to Lewis’s wife Elizabeth “the best there is around” –, and a cow. They actually had to rent cattle. Mary assured Lewis in 1863: “We shall get some cattle to do our work,” and they also needed the manure to keep their land fertile.42

In order to survive on a farm, John and Eliza’s mid-western counterparts probably raised a few marketable crops and used the profit to purchase what was not grown. For the Smiths, however, it appears that the aim was not commerce but self-sufficiency. Owning livestock meant wintering them over, which meant cutting a lot of hay, something for which the Smiths did not have enough land or manpower. With only sixty acres, and some of that uncultivable due to slope and rocks, priority was given to crops that would sustain the family through the winter. And in any case, there was no easy way to get most of their products to market. The railroad never came very close to Sandwich, and roads were poor.

In 1865, John’s brother Samuel Smith of Winchester, Massachusetts sold the sixty-acre homestead plot for $500 to J. Frank Wiggin of Meridith, the husband of Lewis’s sister Lucy Jane Smith.43 Frank did not live in the house; he had a bustling shop in Meredith. But the land stayed in the family, in part because of a friend and relation who was reaping the benefits of a bigger town.

Lewis Q. and Mary E. Smith
In about 1853, Sandwich schoolteacher Lucy Jane Smith wrote to her brother Lewis Q. Smith,
If you come home to spend the winter I shall be at home with you, or if you go away I shall go with you . . . . Mother wants you to come home to spend Thanksgiving all of you [Lewis, his brother Jacob, and “Mary,” possibly Lewis’s future wife] and I want you to come very much if you can.44
Lewis did come home, but not before employing himself as a shoemaker, considering a trip to western gold mines, getting married to Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” or “Libby” Paine, and volunteering to fight in the Civil War.45 This last adventure he later regretted (he confessed to his wife his feeling that “this is a judgement sent upon me . . . . I was too mean to stay there at home with you”), and perhaps it drained the restlessness out of his bones at last. He stayed on the family homestead until he died in December 1913.46
Uncle Sam’s Soldier

The War was doubtless a life-changing event for Lewis. He traveled through New York, Maryland, Washington D.C., Georgia, and Louisiana, endured sickness and battles, and saw enough to grow very bitter toward his leaders. He complained to his sister Lucy,

If it was not for the big pay that the [officers] have this war wood very soon come to close but they have big pay an keep drunk haft thar time and haft of the other haft . . . they [fare] well while the por soldier is kick around by the cursed [officers].47

In the field, the Sandwich Historical Society has noted, company K “became the men’s surrogate family” as it comprised more Sandwich residents than any other unit.48 Indeed, Lewis’ wrote to his wife in May 1862, “Asa [Magoon] an Molton Webster took car of me they spared no pains.”49 But Lewis was also very lonely and homesick. At times he was deeply pessimistic. From Poolville, Maryland, he wrote, “evey thing looks dark and darker evey day.”50 He felt the acute powerlessness of being unable to do anything but send money. “When I heare of eny of my friends air at home under pains of sickness,” he confessed to Elizabeth, “it makes my hart aks [aches] within. My felins I can hardly control but we will try to make the best of it.”51 Sometimes his reflections on home were more light-spirited. He imagined playfully what he would do if he could spend Thanksgiving with Elizabeth:

I think you was coming out large to kill your poor old hin for me if I come home . . . I wood don better by you if you had come out hear to see me. I wood gut you a good fat turkey if I had to hook it whitch I have never don since I have bin in the army.52
“I should like to spend the winter with you,” he declared to Elizabeth in November 1863, “but as I cannot you must try and make the best of it and I will try and do the same and we will both come out bright and shiney at last.”53 He later wrote to Lucy and her husband Frank Wiggin, “I should like to bin thar with you, but I am in the fetters fast and strong. But there is a day acoming that the ion [iron] chane will be brocken. Then we will return to our homes.”54

As it turns out, he was one of the fortunate who did return home. When he was finally discharged in July 1865, by this time a Corporal (though he had earlier confessed to Mary that in reality “a Copril is no better than a privit”), Lewis had given up “likker,” talked of abstaining also from tobacco,55 and begged forgiveness of his wife.

I think that you ought to take some comfort now for you never did before while I was there with you and I know it now but the past I cannot recall. You must forgive me for the past if you can . . . . I should think you would rather I should stay for when I am here there is no one to trouble you . . .56
For her part, Elizabeth Smith replied, “I did [not] think you was a bad boy . . . . I think you love your wife and children too well for that.”57 In one letter she was adamant about his return.

I am goin to say one thing . . . don’t you insist again it . . . . I want not your money, I don’t sel my husband. I kneed you hear more than your kneeded eny where els. Your boys wants a good Marster and your are the one for them.58

As Elizabeth’s plea suggests, the war was also hard for those who remained on the farm. Because so many men were called away, labor was difficult to find and very expensive. Wages increased by some fifty percent during the war. Prices, meanwhile, rose by about one hundred percent, and this combination in addition to higher taxes caused some families to lose their farms altogether. The Smiths used family help when they could, but apparently depending mostly on John, who was by this time in his seventies. And when John got sick, as he apparently did in the winter of 1863-4, it was real cause for worry. “I was afraid he would never get over it,” Lucy confided to Lewis, “I thought what could they do with out him when you was away.”59

The town also did what they could to help out. At an October 1861 town meeting, William Weed was named the aid disburser for families of soldiers. Elizabeth often mentions “going to Weed” to receive her sum.60

In Lewis’ absence, Burleigh’s return in 1862 must have been a godsend. They clearly relied upon him. Lewis repeatedly wrote his wife to see Burleigh if she needed help, and Burleigh declared to Lewis that “you may be assured that we shall do all that we can to assist her.” Of course, Elizabeth was far from helpless. She was “very prudent,” and tried “to get on with just as little expenses as she possibly” could. She gathered plums and blueberries, made soap, sent candies and supplies to Lewis, mothered six children, and at least once assisted the men with the haying, though she was modest about it. “I guess I shall help him [John] some,” she wrote. “Don’t you think it will be great help.”61 She even bought property and saw to a great deal of farm business — buying hay, renting cattle, selling calves, and so on. Lewis was proud of her: “I think,” he wrote in October 1863, “you are right smart on farming.”62
A Place to Live

When Lewis finally returned to Sandwich, he set right to business. In January of 1867 he bought the sixty-acre homestead lot from his brother-in-law Frank Wiggin, who was apparently holding it on behalf of the family.63 That September, he sold the fifty-acre plot near Kiah Pond his wife had acquired while he was in the service.64

It was Lewis’s tenure that defined the homestead. We can only guess at the character of the property before him, and Demerit and Eva Smith after him did what they could to keep the old farm going, but the years Lewis lived here still pervade the place. In fact, it is still referenced today as the “Lewis Q. Smith farm.”

Lewis is supposed to have built the house that stands today in the 1850s before he left for the War. He married in 1856, and joined the army in 1861, so if tradition is accurate, he built the house in the intervening time. However, the way that Burleigh speaks of the place in his letters (“the old home under the mountain”) suggests a pretty substantial dwelling — and it must have been for John and Eliza to raise six or possibly seven children in it. On the other hand, it is possible that if Lewis did construct the house, he built it after he returned from the war. There is evidence that he did not live on his father’s homestead before the war. He was a shoemaker employed in a larger town sometime in the 1850s, and Burleigh asked where he and Elizabeth would be settling, which suggests it was not assumed that he would inherit his father’s occupation or the family homestead.

To cloud the picture even further, the main two-story house was probably built at a different time from the ell, or lodge, part of the building. Some reports indicate that Eliphalet rebuilt the present ell after the fire, and that Lewis finished the place later. Others have said that the ell was built as a later addition to the main house. Of course, even if the ell is in fact older, its age is hardly recognizable now. The Scouts rebuilt the far eastern end of the building (the commissary) in 1965, added a laundry room in 1993, and apparently replaced the floor and the entire roof structure, so little is left of the original building.

In any case, we can learn a few things about the builders by looking at the house. It has a number of features typical of Greek Revival architecture, a style prevalent in the first half of the nineteenth century. The doorway is surrounded on each side by pilasters, rough imitations of Doric columns, side lights (window panes), and above by a decorative entablature. The roof joins the exterior walls with boxed eaves that feature cornice returns.65 And the lodge porch supports are common vernacular renditions of Greek pillars.

We may only guess as to why the house was built in this style. “Architectural models evocative of Greek democracy,” one author has written, “were thought to be especially appropriate in the new republic, as it rejected traditional ties to England . . . following the War of 1812.”66 Perhaps (if the house was built post-Civil War) Lewis was inspired by architecture – Southern mansions in particular – he may have observed during his stint with the Union army. More likely the style was simply whatever seemed locally popular. A number of Sandwich houses have similar features.

The house, like so many early New England homes, was apparently constructed in the sturdy post-and-beam style, which is one of the reasons it has lasted as well as it has. Instead of a frame of numerous two-by-fours as in most modern houses, the Smith home appears to be supported primarily by a few heavy posts — in the attic, one can still see the original hewn timbers. At the time the house was built, post-and-beam construction was still relatively common in New England, although it was rapidly being superceded by frame-style supports.

The Smith place also seems to have been a connected farmhouse, a famous particularity of New England architecture in which the house was built or arranged from preexisting buildings in several phases: the main house, the ell (usually consisting of a kitchen and living area), and the barn.67 For the Smiths, the barn was a separate building, but the other parts were connected. The connected style, according to architect Thomas Hubka, was a “symbol of progressive agricultural improvement.”68 Farmers were trying to adapt to a changing economy, and as Richard Waldbauer has written, the arrangement represented “the culminating efforts by small family farms to maintain their particular rural life.” In view of the precipitous decline of agriculture in New England around the turn of the century, Walbauer concludes that the connected farmhouse testifies to “outmoded farming strategies and failed practice.”69 We may speculate that the Smith house represented in part their attempt to deal with the decline of their immediate community.
A Growing Farm

Lewis expanded his father’s holdings by purchasing fifty more acres west of the homestead in 1883, and the farm seems to have prospered under his husbandry.70 In the inventory of Mary’s estate after she died in 1915, she owned six head of cattle, two sheep, and a pair of oxen — a marked difference from previous years.71 On the other hand, part of this change may be due to the adjustments that Lewis had to make to survive the decline of Sandwich Notch community.

If the farm was indeed more prosperous, as seems to be the case, credit was in part due to the advantages of a big city. Four of Lewis’ sons — John B., Leslie A., Lewis E., and Frank B. — all moved to Boston. John became a lawyer and administered his mother’s estate after her death in 1915. Leslie and Frank worked for the New England House, evidently a trading company that Leslie may have owned, and acted as agents for their father. They sold his maple syrup and bought supplies for him and Elizabeth — rings, for example, or corned beef — probably cheaper than they could have found them locally.72

In this way, perhaps, Boston helped to preserve the countryside. Still, it appears that contact with emigrated sons and daughters was mostly limited to letters — a situation probably characteristic of many Sandwich families, as dwindling employment opportunities led children westward or cityward. Lewis was wistful about having his children so far away. “Frank,” he wrote in 1886, “I want you and Annie to come up and see us this summer and make us a good long visit. You won’t have a father and mother always to come and see.”73

The children, indeed, were by this time pursuing their own lives, and when Lewis and Elizabeth died in 1913 and 1915, there was no one to take over for them. After Elizabeth’s death, the children collectively deeded the land to Leslie A. Smith, but the old homestead remained peculiarly empty.74 The house was apparently unoccupied for seven years, except perhaps for occasional summer visits from relatives. Lena Smith Ford, a descendent of Eliphalet Smith’s brother Samuel, photographed one such visit: a camping expedition she and her family made to the old Lewis Q. Smith place in August 1921.75

In 1922, however, Demerit and Eva Smith sold the former Nicholas Smith (also a descendent of an original settler) place where they had apparently been farming since 1903, and moved back to the old homestead.76 They would give the house another dozen years of life before it again fell silent.

  1   2   3   4   5

The database is protected by copyright © 2017
send message

    Main page